Year: 2021 Source: Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine. (2021). Published online 1 July 2021. SIEC No: 20210602

Suicide is the 9th leading cause of death in Canada, and a common reason for patients to present to Canadian emergency departments (ED). Little knowledge exists around Canadian emergency physicians (EPs) attitudes toward and understanding of individuals with suicidal ideation.

We developed a web-based survey on suicide knowledge, which was pilot tested by two EPs and one psychiatrist for clarity and content. The survey was distributed via email to attending physician members of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians. Data were described using counts, means, medians and interquartile ranges. The Understanding of Suicidal Patients (USP) Scale is an 11-point questionnaire to assess healthcare providers’ attitudes toward individuals with suicidal ideation. Other questions pertaining to suicidal ideation, self-perceptions on ability to treat suicidal patients, and personal experiences with suicide were asked in Likert format.

One hundred eighty-eight Canadian EPs responded to the survey (15% response rate), with a median age of 49 (IQR 39—55), academic practice reported by 55% of respondents, and 65% of respondents identified as male. The mean USP score was 21.8 (95% CI 21.1–22.5), which indicates a generally positive attitude and willingness to provide care for suicidal patients. Only 17% of respondents had participated in specific training for treatment of suicidal patients in the last five years, while the majority of respondents estimate treating 5–15 patients with suicidal ideation a month. Sixty four percent of respondents indicated they had the skills to screen patients for suicidal ideation, but less than one-third felt they could create a personalized safety plan for patients.

Respondents have a generally positive attitude toward treating individuals with suicidal ideation. Respondents scored highly on the USP scale that measured willingness to provide care for and empathize with suicidal patients. Respondents felt they had the skills to adequately screen patients for suicidal ideation. Key gaps in knowledge were identified suggesting improved residency and ongoing medical education opportunities are needed to better improve care for this vulnerable population.